Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the McCain Campaign

So where did the other side go wrong?

I'll be honest: I've been writing this post in my head on and off for the last month. Even today, I was thinking of new things I wanted to put in it just as Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber are beginning to fade into Trivial Pursuit-style obscurity.

But it's an extremely relevant question: where did the Right go Wrong?

It didn't start during the McCain campaign. Or even the Bush presidency. Or even during the so-called Neoconservative Revolution during the early Clinton days.

It started around 1931 or so, just as America was dipping its feet in the last major economic crisis. In addition to electing FDR, it was the first time there was a Democrat majority in the House in 11 years. In 1933, the Democrats took the Senate - and held control of both branches (with two exceptions) until 1981.

This meant that any Republic president until (and oftentimes during) Reagan had to fight and compromise to put their platforms into action.

It also meant an entrenched Washington ruling class of politician, the kind that almost personified the growth of government and the taking of kickbacks.

Apart from the Nixon administration and the Eisenhower years, Republicans were often forced to concede points to the entrenched Democrats; the Goldwater Republicans compromised and dealed when they could, but they could never quite secure the power they needed for any real change. Until Reagan, of course.

But Reagan represented the first stages of change in the Republican party, one that culminated in the Neoconservative revolution during the 1994 elections that put the Gingrich machine into power. For the first time, the Democrat machine was weak but the Republicans still needed a way to appeal to 'swing voters' who were simply used to punching Democrat and voting along party lines. That's when they looked towards so-called 'social conservative' causes; things that traditionally belonged to Democrats, especially in the South. Johnson was not kidding when he said that passing the Civil Rights Act would 'lose [Democrats] the South for a generation;' the surprising part was that it took Republicans so long to figure this out.

But they did and adopted many social conservative causes; anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-flag burning, pro-institutionalized prayer in schools, pro-censorship, pro-guns, anti-science (or pro-intelligent design, but anti-science is more accurate.) Apart from abortion, which depending on your belief system involves the taking of innocent life, these are not life and death issues for many; they are simply the kind of thing people focus on when economics, complex international relations or other major crises are either irrelevant to them, unimportant or too hard to understand. I'm generalizing but the point is that none of them are important causes in and of themselves and very rarely affect the daily lives of people.

But putting measures on ballots to bring out the people who do care about such things will also enfranchise segments of the voting population who might not have been motivated to vote otherwise, and through clever media manipulation (and say what you will about the so-called Liberal Mainstream Media, the Republicans are masters of media control, even now) their candidates are associated with these causes - so the social conservatives vote for the Republican candidates. Wham. Instant Republican voting block.

So the party of business owners and middle-class office workers concerned about keeping their taxes small adopted groups of people who wanted to see American law replaced by the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (among others.) It was an extremely beneficial relationship at first and I don't think anyone can argue that the first few years of the Neocon revolution, in which Clinton and Gingrich balanced the budget and our economy was chugging along nicely, were some of the best in the last thirty years. Compromise will do that. Take note.

Sometime during the late 1990s - and I had a front-row seat for this in the middle of the Bible belt - there was a subtle shift of power. Suddenly the business owners and middle class were nudged out in favor of the other side of the party, the hardcore religious side. It was a gradual process, but somehow the adopted messages became the real messages and fiscal responsibility and smaller government became the adopted messages to keep the so-called 'base' part of the party. The election of candidates like Rick Santorum, who equated homosexuality to child molestation and bestiality (in an interview published April 23, 2003 in the USA Today if you want to look it up) and their subsequent elevation to high levels of leadership in the Republican party was the most obvious indication of this shift.

There's something else important at work here; these voters are often motivated by fear. Fear of the blacks or Hispanics moving into their neighborhoods. Fear of immigrants taking their jobs. Fear of homosexuals who will prey on their children. Fear that God may forsake them if they don't fight for prayer in schools or the teaching of anti-science doctrines. When I said that the Republican machine was brilliant at media manipulation, part of what I meant is that they learned how to read, use and more importantly manipulate this fear.

So when the Bush administration started rearranging the Federal Government after 9/11, when fear was at an all-time high, people barely noticed that the Goldwater ideals had been flushed so far down the toilet Saddam might have waited for them to pop out the other side. Security meant that government could - and did - grow if it meant we'd be safe. It meant that basic rights we've enjoyed from the very beginning of our nation have been taken away by the Patriot Act in the name of keeping us secure.

Except chinks started to appear in this fear-armor. Hurricane Katrina and the debacle of the federal response to it or when the economy tanking at the same time a $700 'economic stimulus check' looks like a poke in the eye. And something else happened. The same middle-class workers and small business owners who were the Republican party's main voting base started to look around and go 'what the fuck is going on here?' As did more than a few swing voters who came along for the ride.

I've always said McCain should have been the Republican party's nominee in 2000, and not only because he was set to win until Karl Rove and his vileness quite literally destroyed his campaign by insinuation (among other things) that McCain's adopted daughter was conceived out of wedlock. McCain is not like the others; he's much more of the old school Republican, and at one time most certainly a maverick. He was in part responsible for one of the best pieces of legislation passed in the last ten years, the McCain-Feingold bill. And his nomination among Republicans this year was indicative of the fact that many of them were starting to reject the center-stage politics of fear the Neocons have so fully embraced.

Sadly his defeat seems to be directly related to that very thing. The selection of Sarah Palin as vice-president was a cynical move on two levels; they thought they would pick up some of Hillary Clinton's supporters just because Palin was a woman, and they thought they'd appeal to the far-right base because of Palin's politics. They did. They succeeded. But in so doing, they alienated the other half of the party, the dog that has been wagged by the Neocon social conservative Santorum-like tail for so long.

And here's why McCain failed, plain and simple. People are tired of the social conservative nonsense. Gay rights has come along quite nicely in the last 20 years, despite the efforts of people like Santorum. There's still no flag burning amendment, and abortion is still legal - this despite years of Neocon control of the Presidency and Congress. And the economic situation looks more like the Democrats of the early 1980s rather than the party of Goldwater and fiscal responsibility. I think the lights are on, and the roaches scattered.

The ultimate example of this to me was during a McCain rally - I tried to save the video, but don't have it, but it's on YouTube - when someone at the crowd yells 'kill him!' about Obama. McCain steps out of character for a moment and says 'no, you know what, he's a great guy and an honorable Senator' and is booed by his own crowd. He didn't want to deal with the pets of the fiscal conservatives, the people Republicans brought along for the ride who are one generation away from the cross-burners who fought Martin Luther King. I think, quite frankly, it really pissed him off that he had to try to appeal to those people and in the end he alienated those who wanted a maverick by going after the people to whom what two consenting adults do in their own bedrooms is the most important reason to go to the ballot box.

The post-election meltdowns on conservative blogs, on Fox News (Hannity has a countdown to 2012 ticket on his show), on message boards and no doubt in FW>FW>FW>FW> emails across America has been truly representative of how divided the Republicans are. They're literally attacking and destroying each other; the well-honed far-right smear machine is now poised to launch Operation Leper against McCain campaign staff that dared speak out against Palin's lack of ability to be president should something happen to the 72-year-old bypass patient candidate. And is not some far-right screed blog like Free Republic; it's as mainstream as you can get in right-wing circles.

The anti-Obama rhetoric is coming out in droves, and frankly this may be the best thing for Republicans as they try to regroup. They have something else to fear: two out of three branches of government controlled by the other party. The party is going to realign itself, and it's not clear if the two sides will come back together and if they do who will start wagging whom. Will they elect another Bush in the name of social conservativism who will make another mockery of everything Goldwater stood for? Or will they put someone like McCain out there instead?

Consider this: Obama is more conservative than Richard Nixon. Let that sink in. On a political scale, Obama's policies are more conservative than Nixon's. Seriously. Obama is more conservative than Nixon. And this is the guy the fearmongers think is going to turn America into Stalinist Russia.

Will the Goldwaters come and work with Obama? Or will the militia movements from the 1990s resurface and the Republican tail head for the hills?

It'll be an interesting next couple of years.

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